Mar 17, 2015

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Live Review: José González – Academy 2, Manchester

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It’s amazing to think José González originated from hardcore rock. His days of playing with rock band Renascence, whilst firmly based in the nineties, didn’t stop his love of rock coming through via his choice of covers by Bruce Springsteen and Joy Division, which he has been able to completely reshape and envisage in his own way, drawing upon folk and classical guitar influences. One of González’s main musical icons is Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodriguez, incorporating the melodies and tones of Latin folk and pop songs into his musical repertoire.

Upon attending his show at Academy 2 in the heart of Manchester, I was taken on a journey of inspiration, personal reflection and beauty, beginning with Icelandic singer Ólöf Arnalds who has been supporting González throughout his European tour. Arnalds has been on the Icelandic music scene for quite some time. Launching her solo career in 2007, she previously toured with múm for five years before releasing her debut album Við Og Við in 2007. She has been known to collaborate with a variety of artists including Björk. Arnalds has a striking, distinct tone to her voice which instantly captivates you, taking you into a surreal, magical world. There is an innocence to her voice, the tone of a young girl which is layered with the knowledge and experience of an old woman, with clear influence being taken from Vashti Bunyan, Judee Sill and Kate Bush. Arnalds performed with humility and a touching modesty, her smile drawing you in, making you feel carefree and lost in youthful nostalgia. Her voice is truly unique, her approach to music strikingly individual.

I watched as the room began to fill after Arnald’s performance, each face eagerly awaiting the soothing, hypnotic vocals of González to fill the air. As soon as he stepped onto the stage he went straight into the performance without a moment’s hesitation, his classical guitar skills instantly drawing the crowd in, hundreds of eyes watching as he played complicated melodies with ease. His presence on stage made you feel as though he was singing directly to you regardless of the crowded space. He has a true gift to personalise his performance with each reflective ballad, telling a story that touches each person in a different way, but ultimately makes you feel connected to each other; everyone equally enraptured and touched by the beautiful sincerity of González’s lyrics.

The majority of González’s performance was taken from his second album In Our Nature with particular favourites being Massive Attack cover Teardrop and Killing for Love. There was a touching emotive atmosphere when Down The Line was played, the crowd shouting into the night ‘Don’t let the darkness eat you up’; you could tell González’s lyrics had really hit home and evoked powerful emotions, the simplicity of his lyrics drawing out personal reflection. Music for the soul.

González also gave his fans a nostalgic treat playing material from his debut album Veneer including the likes of Knife cover Heartbeats appealing to the sweethearts in the crowd. One notable couple subtly took each others hand as González started to play the familiar melody. As an artist he is able to fill a room with both heaviness and light, each song being sickeningly bittersweet. At times you felt uplifted, at others you felt yourself slowly sinking.

González’s iconic Alhambra classical guitar was beautifully played throughout his performance, the artist carrying out each live show purely with his fingernails, reinforcing each nail with strengthener. As a performer his guitar becomes an extension of his body, his vocals and melodies becoming a single entity, where you become slowly entranced throughout, taken on a journey of self discovery and personal truth. Towards the end of his performance González touched upon his latest album Vestiges & Claws, playing Every Age and Leaf Off/The Cave, bringing the crowd together through positivity and human strength.

His encore brought Ólöf Arnalds back to the stage, the pair playing a beautiful rendition of Lou Reed’s I’ll Be Your Mirror which ended the performance perfectly. The song was well balanced by the delicacy of Arnald’s vocal and the soothing undertones of González. A musical treat to draw the night to a captivating close.

González is truly in a class of his own – an emotive, philosophical thinker whose approach to song writing and production sets him worlds apart.

Claudia Foxcroft